Erased from German film history, this politically subversive, communist film was banned by the then chancellor of Germany Adolf Hitler. Provocative and highly entertaining, this Bertolt Brecht story questions the makings of capitalist Germany, with mass unemployment and quality of life diminishing. Sounds all very relative, doesn’t it?
Clearly influenced by Vertov’s Living Russia from three years previous, the film starts with a silent sequence of German labourers cycling from place to place desperately seeking work; the spiralling chains and mechanism an allegory for the autonomous regime.
From there, the film starts talking and director Slatan Dudow’s scathing, controversial attack on the abysmal state of Berlin is unabating, often to the point where any sense of entertainment is sidelined. However, the film’s political potency is most magnificent in the closing scene of the film, where an unhappy, hungry and unemployed Berlin community debate the state of things to come, with one young hopeful shouting out over the rest with the eternal mantra: ‘Those who will change the world are those who don’t like the world.’ A testament of things to come in 1930s Germany, and advice that still rings true today.
THE GOOD: Like a lot of forgotten thirties masterpieces, the surrealism on display rivals even today’s phantasmagoric cinema.
THE BAD: Lacks some adhesive bind to bring it all together. A Brechtian smörgåsbord of ideas rather than a complete filmic sandwich.